Let me be clear right now. Feeding hungry kids at school is a GOOD THING. That said, it’s a band-aid to deal with one of the symptoms of poverty, low wages, unemployment, and general structural inequity while you fix these bigger problems. If you don’t do that then it just becomes another classic third-way policy.
So when David Shearer announced it I was surprised that it wasn’t picked up by National. After all it represents a small outlay of taxpayers’ money and would deliver National a much needed PR reprieve. As I commented at the time:
The nat’s political nous seems to have deserted them this year. They could have just pinched the food in schools policy and run with it. It costs bugger all and would’ve made them look a) like they were able to act in a bipartisan manner b) have seemed like they cared (and helped shore up the female vote) and c) taken the (albeit limited) wind out of Labour’s sails on the issue. It’s exactly the kind of thing Key would have done a year ago
It seems the leader’s office has finally cottoned on to this with the Herald reporting increased funding to food in schools programmes is being considered:
[Bill English] said he was “quite open” to considering a national food strategy for low-decile schools as proposed by an expert group appointed by Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills.
I certainly hope they implement this strategy.
What’s interesting about this, however, is the fact that since Labour’s announcement they’ve done sod all to highlight and own their own policy. The result has been that the policy of food in schools is now seen as one driven by John Campbell (and kudos to him – he’s done a superb job) and the children’s commissioner. In the Herald article Labour and David Shearer aren’t mentioned even once.
The context of the issue is barely touched on either. In fact Bill English manages to partially shift it toward the right-wing “personal responsibility” frame of government having to pick up where irresponsible parents fail (as an aside, I’ve noticed an increased use of this distorted version of the social contract argument turning up a lot – and not always from the mouths of (blue) tories).
While I’ll be immensely pleased if the government makes sure the kids get fed, we’ve lost the opportunity to have an hugely significant discussion about why they are hungry in the first place.
That’s the problem with third way policies.